Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 133 - Concrete Finality

          U-Haul claims that a 4 bedroom house will fit into their 26 foot ‘super mover’ truck. I’m pretty sure that isn’t true, at least in my case, because it took me two trucks to move my 3 bedroom house into my 4 bedroom house. And then, after we were moved in, we had to buy more furniture to fill the left over empty rooms. Even so, I am only renting one truck this time because I fully intend to sell and give away a lot of my stuff before we move—hopefully enough of it to get the remainder into one truck for one trip. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
* * * * *
          Conditions started to deteriorate at Albatross after Betty Boop flew the coop. Many, many formerly cheerful staffers started feeling anxious and defeated, and with good reason. It was no secret that another substantial reduction in force was in the offing. Sales were shrinking as distributors and customers left over quality issues. Managing cash flow was a constant struggle.
Almost all of my time was now devoted to mollifying disgruntled suppliers who would not ship us product until we paid down our overdue accounts. Every day was a juggling act: whom to pay and how much, whom to beg, lie to, or ignore.
All the calls came to me. Rod made it clear that he was too important to be dealing with such matters. The clerks were too busy and too overwrought to deal with the calls effectively. Eddie was demonstrably too abrasive. That left slow walkin’, smooth talkin’ me to single-handedly keep the production lines moving through a carefully orchestrated medley of cajolery, assurances, promises, and deceits.
I did a masterful job of it too. Even Ringcomme complimented me for my success at keeping materials flowing without any money. Rod and Quentin were more reticent, but they did stay largely out of my hair, which I took to be tacit approval of my methods and abilities. Of course it could be that they were merely fearful that they would somehow be sucked into the gaping, dark maw of vendor troubles. I preferred to think of them as approving rather than fearful. At that point I would have grasped at anything to keep my sodden spirits afloat.
(An interesting aside: being able to deal effectively with irate vendors is an unusual, useful, and at times crucial skill. It is not one, however, that is likely to land a candidate on a short list of potential hires. Why? Because no hiring company in its right mind wants to admit that it has or is likely to develop a need for this skill, and no candidate who possesses it, as it is customarily developed under extreme duress, ever wants to take a job where he or she will have to use it again. It is, therefore, a skill that is just not discussed in polite company.)
After several months of this I was near collapse. I hadn’t seen the sun in a long time. I came into the office at 5:30 and didn’t leave until well after dark. I did my reports and analysis work before and after business hours. From 8:00 to 5:00 I was on the phone, fielding one call after another in a Herculean attempt to hold things together. The stress was unbelievable. My health, both mental and physical, began to suffer. I was on the verge of collapse.
That’s when Rod decided that we needed to hire an accounting manager. He put this on me too, like I didn’t have enough to do. It would have been nice if he was trying to get me some help, trying to take some of the pressure off so I could be more effective, but I think his real goal was to replace me. He wanted me to solicit, interview, and select someone to take over my job so he could get rid of me. He didn’t tell me this of course. What he told me is that I needed to be doing less work and more management. He envisioned my ultimate role, or so he said, as purely supervisory—much like his.
I settled on a candidate we’ll call Dennis Lustre, who came with pretty good experience and excellent references, although he had not been working in accounting for a number of years. Dennis was just a few years younger than me, divorced with grown children, very personable and eager. I liked him immediately although I worried that his penchant for gab was going to be problematic. The man loved to talk.
It took forever to get Dennis hired, principally because I couldn’t get Rod or Quentin to give me a firm decision. I wasn’t going to be fooled again into making an offer that I later had to rescind because those two bozos wanted to indulge their timidity at my expense. Three full weeks after I had decided on Dennis I got a signed personnel requisition from Quentin—the requisite documentary proof that I was not a rogue operator. Marjorie delivered it.
In spite of Rod’s vision for the new office dynamic, the one that had me adopting a purely supervisory role and Dennis assuming my accounting functions, I had a different idea. We weren’t ready for Rod’s vision. We had way too much other crap going on to try to settle into anything resembling planned functionality.
For one thing we had two sets of consultants working full time in two large conference rooms to upset whatever internal vision we tried to implement. The consultants worked for our owners, who consisted, since our last reorganization, the one that had resulted in the untimely demise of our former UK based parent, of a consortium of banks and creditors. The consortium could agree on nothing except that there needed to be some wholesale changes to return us to profitability, and that, apparently, they needed to pay exorbitant sums of money to a bunch of slick New York consultants to decide exactly what changes needed to be made. That they were using the very money we could have been paying to our vendors didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.
I determined to put Dennis in charge of the payables section, and to let him start fielding some of the irate vendor calls—this in spite of the fact that Rod wanted him to put together a book of monthly account reconciliations for the auditors and to start writing a policies and procedures manual. Neither of those things made a lot of sense to me under the circumstances. Dennis didn’t know anything about our accounts or our systems. He would have taken forever to learn enough to do account reconciliations. On the other hand, given his gift for conversation, Dennis should be a natural at the cajolery and subterfuge we were practicing on our suppliers.
As far as the policies and procedures were concerned, Quentin and Rod’s collective ability to render effective decisions on simple matters like hiring an accountant didn’t bode well for publishing a manual within the decade. By the time they were ready to issue a policies and procedures manual the consultants would have so changed the organization of our business as to render the manual obsolete and useless.
Dennis was in fact a natural at dealing with the vendors. He was also sensitive and charming enough to resurrect the flagging morale in the payables section. Of course, as far as the AP clerks were concerned, even Attila the Hun would have been a huge improvement over the management style of Eddie Sharpe.
          All of this lifted a huge burden off my shoulders, and I was able, finally, to drive past the several bridge abutments on the way to and from work without dreaming wistfully of switching off the air bags in my car and swerving into a concrete finality. Meanwhile, of course, the consultants were plodding on to another kind of finality—one that would take the bridge abutments out of play forever.

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